'No Sufficient Ground to Invoke Sedition Against Ranas': Court on 'Hanuman Chalisa' Case

The Mumbai court, however, said the couple 'undoubtedly crossed the line of freedom of speech', while granting them bail.

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New Delhi: While maintaining that Maharashtra MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana “undoubtedly crossed the line of freedom of speech”, a special court in Mumbai, however, found fault with the police invoking sedition against them in the Hanuman Chalisa case.

The court, in a 17-page detailed order released on Friday, May 6, ruled that mere expression of derogatory or objectionable words is not sufficient ground to invoke sedition in the case. The lawmaker couple walked out of jail on Thursday, a day after getting bail.

Special court judge R.N. Rokade said, “Undoubtedly, the applicants have crossed the lines of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the constitution. However, mere expression of derogatory or objectionable words may not be a sufficient ground for invoking the provisions contained in Section 124A [Sedition] of IPC.”

The Ranas were arrested on April 23 after their announcement to chant Hanuman Chalisa outside chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s private residence, Matoshree, in Mumbai. While the couple had told the court that their intention was only to mobilise public support, the Mumbai Police had said that they had intended to cause public disorder and challenge law and order in the state to an extent that the dissolution of the present government could be recommended.

Referring to Section 124A, the court said a plain reading of the section would show that its application would be attracted when an accused brings or attempts to bring into hatred or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India, by words either written or spoken or visible science or representations, etc.

Also read: Hanuman Chalisa Row: Tension Prevails Outside Maharashtra MLA Ravi Rana’s Residence

The court noted that it was well-settled that Section 124A cannot be invoked to penalise criticism of persons for the time being engaged in carrying on administration or strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means.

Similarly, comments, however strongly-worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal, the court added.

“It is pertinent to note that on perusal of the FIR, it is not the case of the prosecution that the said announcement (of Hanuman Chalisa recitation) was made with an intention to incite people to create disorder by acts of violence. The said announcements do not in any manner have the tendency of subverting the government by violent means, nor do the same have the effect of creating hatred, disaffection or contempt for the government,” the court said.

On the transcripts of the speech submitted by the prosecution, the court said, “Prima facie, it appears that the applicants have used certain expressions and sentences against the chief minister, which are extremely objectionable.”

However, the court had a word of advice for the lawmaker couple. “It is to be noted here that political leaders play an important role in facilitating peace and tranquility. Their vitality is appreciated due to the fact that they have followers who believe in what they say and act accordingly. Therefore, politicians and other public figures have greater responsibility,” it said.

The court added that it may be noted that neither the applicants called anyone to bear arms nor any violence was incited in general as a result of their speech.

Earlier, opposing the bail plea of the Ranas, the Mumbai Police stated that while on the face of it their plan looked innocent, it was in fact a “big plot” to challenge the state government. The plan was intended to cause a collapse of the law and order situation and then seek for dissolution of the present government by the governor of Maharashtra, it had said.

“When the use of words has the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order then the provisions of sedition are attracted,” the police had said, opposing the bail plea.

The couple walked out of jail on Thursday, May 5, after furnishing Rs 50,000 each as a surety amount.

(With PTI inputs)